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Like Michael Haneke before him, Sebastian Lelio has attempted that most boldly self-referential of acts – or, some might argue, the most onanistic – and remade, pretty much shot-for-shot, one of his past films. Gloria Bell is an English-language reworking of Gloria, the director’s 2013 drama of middle-age malaise. Here the action is relocated from Santiago to Los Angeles, with Julianne Moore replacing Berlin best actress winner Paulina García as the titular character, a fifty-something divorcee negotiating the choppy waters of pre-retirement life.
Reportedly it was Moore who recruited Lelio to the project, and if that is the case it was a shrewd call. Gloria Bell pairs perhaps the best portrayer of troubled or lost women with a director who has built a career building stories around them, and the result is a film that comfortably banishes any fears of some neutered US remake.
The story, in its broad strokes, is identical to its predecessor, opening with Gloria hovering alone at the bar of a 70s-themed singles venue. She’s been divorced for over a decade, and is largely comfortable with that status, though just seems to be beginning to grow restless at the prospect of spinsterdom. She has a grown-up son (Michael Cera) and daughter (Caren Pistorius), both of whom she dotes on ever too slightly too much, and an active social life. Aside from an aggressive upstairs neighbour and the hairless cat that keeps finding its way into Gloria’s house, hers is a happy, balanced mature person’s existence, the sort you might see in a cheery advert for an over-50s life insurance plan – but occasionally we see hints of a deeper sadness and loneliness.
One night at the singles bar Gloria gets talking to Arnold (John Turturro), a former Navy officer now working as a paintball instructor. Divorced with grown-up children and looking for adventure, Arnold shares much in common with Gloria, and the two begin a faltering relationship. Under the surface though, there’s instability in Arnold’s life – his ex-wife is needy and grasping, his daughters stunted adolescents – and it’s clear he hasn’t got a handle on post-divorce life out in the way Gloria has. Moreover he has a nasty habit of disappearing suddenly; feeling neglected at a dinner party with Gloria, her ex-husband and their children, Arnold abruptly leaves without telling anyone, a decision that hurts Gloria greatly, and leaves her with difficult questions about where her own life has vanished to.
While plenty of actors would seek to amp up this unravelling, Moore depicts it with quiet understatement and a faraway smile. It’s only on the dance floor or when belting out 80s soft rock hits in the car that she, and Gloria, truly let themselves go, though in the film’s final act the character does finally lose control in riotous fashion. Leilo depicts these moments with a dreamlike abandon, helped along with the hot pinks and pastel yellows of Natasha Braier’s cinematography.
There’s a danger that, in lifting a premise wholesale from a foreign-language film and shoehorning into an American setting, you strip away crucial contextual details, and end up with something blandly non-committal. Lelio’s original seemed haunted by the spectral presence of Chile’s military junta, which its middle-aged characters, old enough to well remember Pinochet, still seemed to be trying to run away from, through dancing, partying and general recklessness. Some might miss that sense of specificity, but instead there’s a warm universality here that is absorbing in its own right. It’s an engaging, inventive cover version.
• Gloria has premiered at the Toronto film festival
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Gloria Bell review: Julianne Moore predictably brilliant as dating divorcee | Toronto film festival 2018